Crossing the border between Tijuana and San Diego is a big pain. Just ask anyone around here.
The San Ysidro Port of Entry is in fact the busiest land border crossing in the world. But it seems that we are still in denial. Wouldn’t it be nice if Washington D.C. finally treated San Diego-Tijuana as the major world metropolis that it is?
In December 2009, the U.S. government began a massive reconstruction of the clogged port, mapping out three phases of the project. But weak binational coordination and disregard of local stakeholders are creating new challenges.
This project also illustrates a fundamental pattern in U.S. funding priorities for the border. Funding in the U.S. moves at a snail’s pace for progressive border projects like expansion and improvement of Ports of Entry. In contrast, when it comes to border security infrastructure, surveillance technology and putting boots on the ground, the U.S. government has literally thrown billions of dollars willy nilly into border security: hiring thousands more border patrol agents but doing little about complaints of corruption and brutal abuse of power, funding poorly executed programs like SBINet, and building border walls that destroy the environment and cave in whenever it rains.
El Chaparral opens this week
In conjunction with the United States reconstruction of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, Mexico is also building a new Port of Entry south and west of San Ysidro to ease southbound congestion.
Mexican officials plan the official opening of the El Chaparral Port of Entry by November 1, 2012, with a projected 22 inspection lanes and four bridges, reports Sandra Dibble of the San Diego Union-Tribune. This week, October 23, 2012, the southbound lanes were opened for a trial run. The Mexican authorities hope drivers will gradually become accustomed to the new route.
To get to El Chaparral driving southbound from the United States into Mexico, you will need to continue driving as usual towards Puerta Mexico, and when you get to the end of the 5 freeway, you will find a deviation route, reports San Diego Red.com, this week. The United States GSA has developed some helpful maps, published today, and available by clicking here.
U.S. & Mexico out of phase
Plans for expansion of lanes entering Mexico from San Diego continue to move forward, in spite of poor binational coordination of the effort.
El Chaparral, located just west of the U.S. port of entry at San Ysidro, is part of a massive binational reconstruction of the congested San Ysidro border crossing. The United States’ plans a three-phase renovation at a projected cost of $583 million. The U.S. Congress has approved spending on the first phase, $292 million, and construction has been underway for some time now.
But the second and third phases, which include installation of pedestrian crossing areas, and the costly rerouting of Interstate 5 to build a $121 million permanent southbound connection to Mexico’s El Chaparral Port of Entry, have not been funded.
Poor coordination of the effort has frustrated Mexican local stakeholders, according to reporter Jorge D’Garay Juncal of Zeta.
While U.S. stakeholders work on solutions, Mexico’s federal leaders 3000 kilometers away in Mexico City remain out of touch, according to D’Garay Juncal.
And so, while Mexico is ready to build, the US is not forthcoming with funding to build the southbound lanes on the US side. Under the current schedule, the United States isn’t expected to connect southbound Interstate 5 traffic to El Chaparral until 2016.
And in spite of their knowledge of the U.S. funding process, Mexican federal authorities have pushed the United States to move forward with this “Phase 3” part of the project, according to D’Garay Juncal. Projects in Mexico are tied to individual presidential administrations–and in spite of its importance to local economic development, El Chaparral is no different. Mexican President Felipe Calderón wants finish out his term in office this year having completed the El Chaparral Port of Entry.
In the meantime….
And so, while Mexico waits for the U.S. to build a road on the north side of the border, they are scrambling to develop interim strategies to ease southbound traffic flow from the current Interstate 5 over to the new El Chaparral Port of Entry.
Various proposals have been considered, including using Virginia Street in San Ysidro as the southbound entry lane into Tijuana. U.S. officials have rejected that solution. The General Services Administration (the U.S. Federal agency that owns the ports) is studying Mexico’s latest proposed solution, which involves building an interim five-lane connection south from the United States and then veering west to El Chaparral. A major concern is that a sharp curve in that provisional route could slow traffic entering Tijuana. GSA is expected to complete its study of the interim strategy in June 2012. But it can’t move forward without congressional funding for the project, reports Dibble, estimated at $2.5 million.
In terms of the scheduling, “we are nowhere near able to match Mexico’s proposal,” Ramon Riesgo, southern border project director for the U.S. General Services Administration, said Wednesday, May 30, during a briefing for the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce.
At the earliest, the interim fix would be completed by about May 2013, Riesgo said.
Meanwhile, Mexican government officials plan to open El Chaparral in the fall for southbound drivers entering Mexico, and close down six southbound lanes at San Ysidro coming into Tijuana and turn them into northbound lanes.
U.S. and Mexican federal officials finally meet with local stakeholders
On March 22, 2012 a binational meeting was held in Tijuana to discuss the project. According to a report by Sandra Dibble in the San Diego Union-Tribune, “The gathering at the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana marked the first in a series of similar meetings planned all along the U.S.-Mexico border. The aim is to bring federal policymakers in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City in direct contact with local authorities and business leaders.”
And for the first time, federal officials on both sides of the border are meeting with local business and political leaders to listen to their concerns.
“Since 2010, top federal officials from both nations have been coming together to discuss these issues under the auspices of the United States-Mexico Executive Steering Committee on Twenty-First Century Border Management. The session on March 22 marked the first time they met directly with a group of local stakeholders,” reports Dibble.
SEPTEMBER 2012 UPDATE:
On September 24, the pedestrian crossing at San Ysidro was rerouted: pedestrians crossing back into Tijuana from San Ysidro now pass in front of the McDonald’s building, and take a left and walk through the parking lot. At the sign that reads “To Mexico/A Mexico,” walkers take a right and follow the new pathway that passes along the back of the historic Customs House building. After passing through the turnstile, pedestrians pass through a small room with customs officers, then emerge out into same street (Puente Mexico) where pedestrians stand in line to cross from Tijuana to San Diego. Walkers take a left down the sidewalk, continuing back toward Tijuana, climb the stairs and cross the steel pedestrian bridge and will find themselves near the taxi stands and comedors of the Linea/colonia Federal area.
The delays and poor coordination on the part of both federal governments is expected to cost the region six billion dollars annually, and 51,000 jobs, reports ZETA.
Quienes cruzan de Tijuana a San Diego dejan una derrama económica de seis mil millones de dólares anuales; de este lado, se reciben mil millones, principalmente del consumo de los mexicoamericanos.
Con la ampliación de la garita de San Ysidro y la apertura de El Chaparral, los entorpecimientos en los cruces podrían representar pérdidas anuales de seis billones de dólares y 51 mil empleos en la región binacional, de acuerdo a un estudio de la Asociación de Gobiernos de San Diego (SANDAG), realizado en 2005.
As reported earlier this summer, the federal authorities in the United States planned a three-stage project to expand the San Ysidro Port of Entry, but pushed back the expansion of lanes to enable southbound crossing to the third stage. Mexican federal authorities will open the new southbound lanes in November 2012, four years earlier than the U.S. plan for 2016.
The scramble is expected to cause chaos, but authorities claim that all will run smoothly and that traffic studies have determined that there will no significant delays in southbound traffic flow. Meanwhile, many drivers and regular border crossers expect to cross at the Otay Port of Entry, avoiding the long waits entering Tijuana that already plague drivers, particularly on Fridays.